Art and Democracy: Aspects of a People’s Theater

March 31, 2011  //  Lyric Theatre

DUDLEY COCKE is a stage director, teacher, writer, media producer, and the current director of Roadside Theater. He recently directed Betsy, a Roadside collaboration with Nashville jazz musicians and New York’s Pregones Theater. He has taught theater at Cornell University, the College of William and Mary, and New York University, and often speaks and writes as an advocate for democratic cultural values. His policy remarks and essays have been published by the Urban Institute, Yale University, American Theatre magazine, Americans for the Arts, Grantmakers in the Arts, the Community Arts Network/Art in the Public Interest, among many others. He received his B.A. from Washington & Lee University; his graduate work was conducted at Harvard University. He is a recipient of the 2002 Heinz Award for Arts and Humanities.

Event Synopsis // provided by: Roadside Theater 

How can communities use art and culture to develop themselves? How do they define the issues they want to address? What steps need to be taken for this process to be inclusive and effective? How do the aesthetics of theater change in community-based contexts?

These questions are taken up in an in-depth conversation between Roadside Theater’s artistic director Dudley Cocke and Max Stephenson, a scholar of civil society and public administration at Virginia Tech.  Stephenson organized a book The Arts and Community Change: Exploring Cultural Development Policies, Practice, and Dilemmas, which was published in 2015 by Routledge and the Community Development Society. As one of the field’s leaders, Cocke wrote a chapter for the book, Community Cultural Development as a Site of Joy, Struggle, and Transformation.

Max and Dudley discuss the power dynamics of exclusion, and how it can be addressed proactively.  Max asks — how do you get diverse audiences to come to the theater?  Dudley describes the process of using communities’ own stories to create plays, and the excitement and agency a community experiences when it begins to hear its own voice. Moving from specific stories drawn from Roadside’s 40 years of community cultural development experience to culture policy, Max and Dudley discuss the principle of cultural equity as expressed in the Universal Human Rights Declaration (Article 27, Section 1) and its application to cultural development.

The last part of the conversation touches on some of Roadside’s current projects, including the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Project, and Chorus for Change with refugee artists from Liberia. The conversation was recently broadcast on Andy Morikawa’s program, Talk at the Table (WUVT-FM Blacksburg 90.7). Give it a listen: